Monday, June 15, 2009

Missed Concepts of Pacific Garbage Patch

For World Oceans Day I wrote an article about the much-hyped "great Pacific garbage patch." It's about my adventures sailing through the area three years ago. Then a Korean news agency contacted me asking for a tour of this "giant plastic island." It brought my attention to a lot of well-meaning misunderstandings in medialand about what the garbage patch is. It is NOT a giant solid island of garbage the size of Texas. It IS a huge area of ocean where one can see floating junk ranging from bottles to miniscule pieces of plastic. It's a pollution problem and it's large, but it is not a giant floating island and you can't see it in satellite photos because of its distributed nature and lack of solidity. The media has latched on to this image of an island because it's dramatic and reads well, but it's really just a large area of ocean that has lots of small plastics floating in it.

This is NOT the Pacific garbage patch nor does it look like this:

This is a more realistic representation of what the "garbage patch" looks like - a water sample of 1 mile of trawling the patch:

Imagine thousands of square miles of tiny floating bits of trash. It's a major risk to sea life because they see this small stuff and think it's plankton and other tasty bites, and they eat it. It fills them up and they die of starvation. Sometimes when you're sailing through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch you can barely see it unless you really look for it. Of course there are larger trash objects floating among this, such as nets, buoys, bags, shoes, etc. But in no way is it a massive solid raft of plastic out there.
Thanks to - Algalita Marine Research Foundation - for their great research and promotion of this subject.